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San Diego Launches ‘Sim City’ Planning Tool For Clairemont

A screenshot shows the eight areas of Clairemont targetted for higher-density...

Credit: City of San Diego

Above: A screenshot shows the eight areas of Clairemont targetted for higher-density development through a new community engagement tool.

San Diego planning officials are launching a new online tool to gather feedback on future growth and development plans in Clairemont.

The tool, which goes live Wednesday, is similar in concept to Sim City: Residents can choose between various zoning designations for different parcels of land in the neighborhood. It allows changes to only eight target areas along major transportation corridors, leaving Clairemont's large swaths of single-family homes largely untouched.

Clairemont has been a flashpoint in San Diego's fights over density and building heights, as officials try to relieve the region's crippling housing shortage while focusing most new development near public transit hubs. Many residents see those growth plans as a threat to their quality of life and neighborhood character.

Users have to make changes to at least three of the eight target areas. The tool also sets a goal of zoning for at least 5,000 additional homes beyond what is allowed under the current community plan adopted in 1989, with 40 percent of the new homes located near future trolley stops at Tecolote Road, Clairemont Drive and Balboa Avenue on the neighborhood's western edge. Users can still submit their feedback even if they do not meet those goals.

RELATED: California YIMBY Sets High Goals For Housing In 2019

Service on the new trolley extension, which is costing taxpayers more than $2 billion, is set to begin in 2021. The City Council will soon vote on plans to increase housing density in parts of Linda Vista and Pacific Beach near the future trolley so more people can live within walking distance of the stations. The city has held off on changing Clairemont's zoning until the full community plan update is ready.

San Diego Planning Director Mike Hansen said the new tool would not replace more traditional in-person community engagement, but rather was intended to include more people in the planning process.

"We have workshops and other meetings where it's possible to provide input in person," he said. "But if that doesn't work out for your schedule or your lifestyle, perfectly fine, then, to go on your laptop or on your phone and provide us input."

Hansen said the city may expand the tool to future updates of other community plans. He said planners settled on the goal of zoning for at least 5,000 new homes by analyzing citywide and regional housing production goals, along with more general goals for transit-oriented development.

"We are under-producing housing," he said. "Our housing supply is not where we need it to be, and that's having an impact on housing affordability."

RELATED: Clairemont Affordable Housing Plan Inches Forward

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has set an ambitious housing agenda for his final two years in office. In his annual "State of the City" address last month, he said he would seek to eliminate building height limits on land near public transit. He also wants to allow unlimited density in projects that set aside a certain portion of homes for low-income households or people exiting homelessness.

Next month, City Council members are scheduled to vote on a proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new apartment and condo buildings within a half-mile of a major transit stop. Supporters say that will allow developers to maximize the number of homes in their projects, increasing the housing supply and putting downward pressure on rents and home prices while also incentivizing people to forgo car ownership.

The parking reform measure won support from the city's Planning Commission and the council's Housing and Land Use committee, but some neighborhood activists fear it would increase competition for on-street parking as more homes could be built with fewer dedicated parking spots for residents.

The mayor's housing initiatives have been largely endorsed by environmentalists as necessary to transition the city away from car dependence. Cars and trucks are San Diego's biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and San Diego's Climate Action Plan expects half of city residents living near major transit hubs to commute to work via biking, walking or riding public transit by 2035.

City planners are launching a new online engagement tool to gather feedback on how and where to zone for more housing in Clairemont. They hope it will allow more people to participate in the planning process.

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